WinFS: Returned to its womb?

WinFS: Returned to its womb?

Summary: In writing WinFS R.I.P., my fellow ZDNet blogger Marc Orchant devotes sufficient text and linkage to what to many appears to be the death of WinFS: the supposedly revolutionary new Windows file system that Microsoft can't seem to shrink wrap and get out the door.

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TOPICS: Microsoft
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In writing WinFS R.I.P., my fellow ZDNet blogger Marc Orchant devotes sufficient text and linkage to what to many appears to be the death of WinFS: the supposedly revolutionary new Windows file system that Microsoft can't seem to shrink wrap and get out the door.  Wrote Orchant:

WinFS, the new-fangled file system that was one of the crown jewels of the original Longhorn (nee Vista) vision for years has been laid to rest in Redmond, Washington....I tried to find a silver lining in the announcement that WinFS had been killed. Amidst the flowery prose about how this was really all about a change in direction and how WinFS would enhance future versions of SQL Server and ADO.NET, I kept hearing a small voice in my head asking, "but what about the end users?".

Even Robert Scoble, who usually has the inside scoop on everything newsworthy happening insde the software giant had a hard time making heads or tails of the situation. 

Interesting threads on an internal Microsoft alias today. Employees are questioning why we (Microsoft employees) can't just own up to the truth and stop spinning when we have bad news to report....What happened to WinFS?  The Web killed it...Update 2: Shishir Mehrotra of the WinFS team wrote me and other bloggers who are talking about this internally and said my theory is wrong and that WinFS hasn't died at all, but is actually being rolled into SQL Server and a new project that's under development.

OK, there you have it.  I think.  

The funny thing about that party line is that my understanding of WinFS was that it was borne out of SQL Server.  Back in 2003, I wrote a piece on how the future of storage is in the metadata and talked a little bit about WinFS and its roots:

For example, Microsoft has already made it clear that its forthcoming Yukon relational database technology is a key building block to WinFS. Although we most often hear about WinFS during discussions of Longhorn, Microsoft's ambitions for WinFS won't stop at the desktop. When you consider any of these storage virtualization technologies and the voluminous amounts of metadata they will have to keep track of, it's not surprising to see that, based on the advertised advancements (high availability, additional backup and restore capabilities, replication enhancements, and secure by default) of its next generation database technology, why Microsoft's WinFS is waiting for Yukon. 

It wouldn't be the first time a database was used to create a robust filesystem.  The filesystem behind IBM's System 36 was similar database based.  Around two weeks after I wrote that, Bill Gates took the stage at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference and referred to WinFS as the Holy Grail. From the transcript of that presentation:

"WinFS" -- this is unified storage.  Some of you here have heard me talk about unified storage for more than a decade.  The idea of taking the XML flexibility, database technology, getting it into the file system:  that's been a Holy Grail for me for quite some time.  And here it is.  Thank goodness we have got the powerful systems to be able to do this thing.  Thank goodness we have the evolution around XML and user interface capabilities, so that this can all come together. 

But then, in August 2004, the company pulled back on its ambitions to include WinFS in what was then codenamed Longhorn (now, Vista) only to revive it under a plan that would roll the beleaguered filesystem out for both Windows Vista and Windows XP (causing some to question why Vista will be a big deal if some of the improvements targeted for the new OS including WinFS, Avalon, and Indigo were working their way back into older versions of Windows).

Now, at the very best, WinFS appears to be returning to that from whence it came: Microsoft's database server technology.  If Scoble is right about the Web killing WinFS -- at least the latest incarnation of it -- then there's more.... much more to this story than meets the eye. After all, what else is the Web good at that was once strictly the domain of thick operating systems and the applications that run on them?

Disclosure: In the spirit of media transparency, I want to disclose that in addition to my day job at ZDNet, I'm also a co-organizer of Mashup Camp and Mashup University. Microsoft, which is mentioned in this story, is one of the sponsors of both upcoming events. For more information on my involvement with these events, see the special disclosure page that I've prepared and published here on ZDNet.

Topic: Microsoft

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8 comments
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  • It's the APIs, Stupid

    I think you could get a clearer picture on this from John Carroll, but the best I can tell is that what's going back to MSSQLServer country is going to be the cleaned-up APIs that were shopped out for MSVista.

    [i]Apparently[/i] the metadata organization and retrieval APIs that MS currently have are more than a bit of a pain to develop to and the new ones are less so. By keeping them for the server end of things:

    * MS sticks with "Developers, Developers, Developers
    * They downgrade the burn they inflicted on developers who invested in WinFS.
    * They maximize support for online applications (think Ray Ozzie.)

    However, on this one I'd wait for John to weigh in.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
  • from the Mini Microsoft comments blog on WinFS

    I lifted the quote below from an anonymous poster (not me) on the Mini Microsoft blog on the subject. I think this paragraph was the most sensible of the 75 posts I looked at.

    "Everything else seemed to be coming together except how to expose it (WinFS) to the end user. My perception is once management realized they had all the other problems solved except this one and could ship everything else in SQL Server and benefit a whole bunch of people without waiting for solution no one had found after a huge investment, they decided to merge everything that did work into SQL Server/ADO.Net. And break off the part they were struggling with into a new, much smaller, prototyping team, not called WinFS. So all the parts of WinFS are still alive, just broken up into stuff we know how to do and can ship and stuff we don't know how to do and aren't sure when or if it'll ship."
    WinnebagoBoy
  • Just too bad

    Just when M$ comes out with something that is *almost* innovative (BeOS already had a filesystem like this - ZFS has some nice features and VERITAS has a quite good filesystem) - they kill it dead. Maybe if some some company had created WinFS, M$ could have bought it and used it in Riska. But alas no, billions of dollars and thousands of programmers just can't reproduce something that already existed in other products (see above). Why not buy the rights to BeOS and their filesystem?
    Roger Ramjet
    • Palm bought BeOS

      Microsoft would have to buy Palm OS to get BeOS (since Palm already bought Be). And I think Apple hired away the engineer of the BeOS filesystem. Maybe Microsoft could buy Apple too. :)
      weldon9
  • Is WinFS a file system

    or bits and pieces of a database program?
    Roger Ramjet
  • There goes my upgrade...

    WinFS was THE feature that excited me about Vista. I know that MS spoke about releasing it for XP, but that was giving me WinME flashbacks.

    I think Scoble might have a point about the web killing WinFS. With the primary elements of WinFS being more of a database structure, rather than a strict file system, it sounds like we're headed back towards a thin-client system, especially with Google's apparent aim towards the MS Office cash cow.

    So now off to explore non-MS (and non-Apple) systems.
    Starlyth
    • I think you are right

      There seems to be brewing in the winds a Grand Slam Whammy against Microsoft. Reading the inbred-blogs one gets a sense of panic among the troops, and cleary a big layoff is in the works soon after Vista unless a miracle happens. Because there is no way Vista is the `way of the future" I downloaded and watched the demo film on Office 07's replacement for FrontPage called Office Sharepoint Designer 07. My initial reaction was "omfg. It's not about design but is a cookie cutter website framework manager. It is still to be seen as to the effect it has on the market, but I could not see how a creative person could use the product. I will be examining the whole suite asap, but so far it does not look good unless you are a fortune 500 CEO trying to micromanage your company.

      The basics of the grand slam are a)Linux has finally come of age and is useful to normal people; b)Everything about Vista AND Office 07 was penned years ago and the paradigm has shifted at exactly the wrong time for MS; and c)Web based apps are also just coming of age an, from my early experience, some are not bad--and there are a lot of players in this mix, not just one, so the quality will sift upward. Then there is a wild card PD shift for MS called Apple in the mix.

      Not a good omen for a company with 80% to 90% of the market.
      WinnebagoBoy
  • what operating system has MS actually innovated?

    Don't you mean 80 to 90% of the home user market.
    If I recall NT was innovated from OS2 version 3.0. Maybe the idea of an OS is a bit to complicated for Microsoft. I think Microsoft ought to give win95 and win98 to charity. It seems to be a newest innovation of Microsoft.
    nisquallypauli9